Pope Benedict XVI will resign on Feb. 28, the Vatican has confirmed. He is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years. Pope Benedict XVI was elected on 19 April 2005 in a papal conclave as the 265th Pope, serving as Sovereign of the Vatican City State and leader of the Catholic Church. As Pope, he is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle.
Pope Benedict XVI has been been in declining health and has been recently been using a cane. He is thought to be the first, or one of the first, popes to resign.
The news comes as shock to the Vatican and to Catholics. There was no speculation that his post would cease before his death. Speaking in Latin, the Pope said he is resigning “full freedom”.
In a statement that can be heard on Vatican Radio, the Pope said:
“I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”
The Pope said his strength is no longer adequate to continue in office due to his advanced age. The Pope added that he is “fully aware of the gravity of this gesture.”
When Pope Benedict XVI turned 85 on April 16, 2012, the Washington Post had written:
“Pope Benedict XVI turned 85 on Monday (April 16) amid renewed speculation about his declining health and possible resignation.
The German-born pope has appeared tired and fatigued in recent months and admitted at a morning Mass to being in “the final leg of the path of my life.”
The Vatican said the Pope’s resignation means the papacy will be vacant until a successor is chosen.
According to unconfirmed information, the next Pope will be elected in March.
Papal resignation Precedents
In 1045, Pope Benedict IX agreed, for financial advantage, to resign the papacy. Pope Gregory VI, who to rid the Church of the scandalous Benedict IX had persuaded him to resign, became his successor. Gregory himself resigned in 1046 because the arrangement he had entered into with Benedict was considered simoniacal; that is, to have been paid for.
The best known example of the resignation of a Pope is that of Pope Celestine V in 1294. After only five months of pontificate, he issued a solemn decree declaring it permissible for a Pope to resign, and then did so himself.
Pope Gregory XII (1406-1415), resigned in order to end the Western Schism, which had reached the point where there were three claimants to the Papal throne.
On 11 February 2013, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI would resign effective February 28, 2013. The Pope said, in a statement, that he could not continue due to his advanced age. He is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.